Istanbul guide

Istanbul is a stunning city. I first visited this amazingly historic city back in 1994. In between a summer internship (in Paris) and the start of a semester abroad programme (in Austria), I spent a few weeks backpacking through some of the Greek islands and then in Turkey. Back then, my travel companion and I had decided that in order to be able to travel for as long as possible, we’d stick to a pretty tight budget; I think it was around US$30 a day including hostel fees. So, as you can imagine, while I got to see a lot of Istanbul–and loved it–I wasn’t really living the high life. In contrast, S first went to Istanbul in 1997 as a journalist and guest of the Turkish tourism board. She also fell in love with the city and had wanted to return ever since.

We decided to spend Christmas in Instanbul this year because over the past 12 months several friends had been and had come back raving about how cool and hip the city had become. We had also, while doing research on furniture for our new home (we’ll move in, hopefully, in June 08) discovered that Istanbul was chock full of antique stores. I guess “transitional” best describes the design style that S and I love; essentially, we want to mix both contemporary and antique (or reproduction) pieces. We had also discovered Autoban’s designs and were dying to visit their showroom and maybe even get something special for the new place.

As usual, I’m skipping all the cultural recommendations because those you can get from any guidebook. Below is just a short list of places we enjoyed eating in and some other places you could splurge on yourself at.


Fried turbot slices served at Kiyi

This chic waterside seafood specialist is located in Tarabya, a chic neighborhood far up on the European side of the Bosphorus. Its bright, clean interiors, knowledgable staff, and amazingly fresh seafood make this the perfect place to lunch at on a sunny day. The grilled squid and the grilled bluefish are both amazing and well worth ordering. Also excellent is the turbot, which you can order grilled whole or fried in slices.
Kefelikoy Caddesi 126, Tarabya
T 0212 262 00 02

Korfez is another fantastic chic fish specialist. Located in Kanlica, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, Korfez runs a regular ferry service over to the European coast, so it’s relatively simple to get to. The elegant, nautical-chic, old-world dining room looks right out over the water.

Seabass baked in salt from Korfez

The menu offers an interesting mix of classics and slightly offbeat modern fusion dishes. Start your meal with some of their delicious small plates. The seafood dolmas are awesome. The marinated octopus and the various vegetable spreads are also delicious. For your main course, definitely have the seabass baked in salt, perfect for 2. Also worth trying is the seabass salad.
Korfez Caddesi 78, Kanlica
T 0216 413 43 14

Seabass salad from Korfez

Changa is one of the trendiest restaurants in Istanbul. It’s also, thankfully, one of the best. Changa is housed in a gorgeously restored Art Nouveau townhouse near Taksim Square. Celebrity chef Peter Gordon consults on the menu, which is a combination of some signature Gordon-style fusion fare and some really exciting modern Turkish creations. The first floor dining room is cool and casual, with a stunning glass window cut into the floor, allowing diners to watch the chefs in the basement kitchen preparing their meals. The 3rd floor dining rooms are gorgeously put together. The interior details–hardwood floors, moulded ceiling, Eames chairs–come together beautifully. Combined with the great food, a meal here is a must in Istanbul.
Siraselviler Caddesi 87, Taksim
T 0212 249 13 48

Changa’s sister restaurant is situated in the Sakip Sabanci Museum in Emirgan, a suburb on the northern European coast of the Bosphorus. It’s a beautiful, warm and modern space, designed by Istanbul’s hottest design team, Autoban. The food is slightly more Turkish than what’s offered at Changa, but it’s equally delicious.
Sakip Sabanci Muzesi, Istinye Caddesi 22
T 0212 323 09 01

House Cafe
House Cafe is the coolest casual cafe-restaurant name in Istanbul. There are branches in Nisantasi (Tesvikiye), Beyoglu, Istinye and Ortakoy. All of them have been designed by Autoban, the team that Wallpaper* magazine dubbed one of the 5 “Best Young Designers” on the planet in their January 2005 issue. We checked out the House Cafe in Tesvikiye, a very trendy and chic part of town. The restaurant is hip, with a stylish, relaxed vibe and nice bright interiors. The menu is a mix of local and international standards, all of them prepared with skill.
Atiye sokak 10/1, Tesvikiye
T 0212 259 23 77

Cafe du Levant
This very cute and kitschy French bistro is housed in the Rahmi M Koc Museum (a musuem dedicated to transportation). The menu is classically French. As is the decor. The restaurant looks like it was put together by a Hollywood set designer, exquisitely conceived and just the tiniest bit over the top. If you plan on visiting this cool museum, be sure to grab a bite here.
Rahmi M Koc Muzesi, Haskoy
T 0212 369 94 50

360 Istanbul
360 is amazingly well-situated on the top of a beautiful old Art Deco building on Istiklal Caddesi, one of the city’s most famous and busiest (pedestrian) shopping streets. The restaurant exudes urban cool. The views are outstanding. The hostesses are all smoking hot. The bar churns out innovative and well-made cocktails. And the patrons are among the coolest and best dressed in the city. The food is good, not amazing, but good. There are two menus, one that offers a large number of small tasting plates and another with more traditional a la carte options. The menu is pretty international with both familiar and some novel options.
Istiklal Caddesi 311, Beyoglu
T 0212 251 10 42

from top left (clockwise): fried mussels at Kiyi; peanuts at Cafe du Levant; caramelized squid at Korfez; seafood mousse at Cafe du Levant

If you go to the Grand Bazaar–and I’m one of those people that feels that you really don’t need to go there more than once in your life–the best place to head to for a good lunch and a respite from the Bazaar’s craziness is Havuzlu. This large, busy and moderately priced restaurant offers a good selection of traditional Turkish dishes. You pick what you want at a kitchen counter and the staff will serve you very speedily.
Gani Celebi Sokak 3, Kapalicarsi
T 0212 527 33 46

Konak Kebap
Despite being located on busy, touristy Istiklal Caddesi, Konak Kebap serves up some seriously good and satisfying grub. The room is large and the whole space feels a bit like the Turkish equivalent of a German beer hall. Be warned though. The “friendly” staff will try and get you to order loads of oversized dishes that you probably don’t want. Take time to study the menu and order only what you want. The kebaps and the doner here are yummy. As is the tomato with spices spread and the yogurt with cucumbers. The pita are baked fresh and served hot. This is a great place to head to when you’re in the mood to pig out a little.
Istiklal Caddesi 153, Taksim
T 0212 249 14 86

Graze and Shop

Savoy Patisserie
We discovered Savoy’s chocolate covered wafers when Erkay Aksey from A La Turca served us some, among a variety of other treats. When S took her first bite of these thick dark goodies, she moaned pretty loudly. The next day we went in search of the Savoy Patisserie, located on Siraselviler Caddesi, in Cihangar and just a few minutes walk from Taksim Square. We got to the large and very popular pastry shop at 4pm. After enquiring about the wafers, we were told they would only be available at 5pm, so S made me wait with her for an hour in the upstairs cafe area. Fortunately, that gave me time to try Savoy’s signature Millefeuille, stuffed with custard (which was amazing) and an eclair.
Siraselviler Caddesi 181/183A, Cihangir
T 0212 249 18 18

Haci Bekir
Also located on Istiklal Caddesi, Haci Bekir is one of Turkey’s oldest makers of lokum (Turkish delight). Founded in 1777, this still family-owned company was once the official supplier of the Ottoman court. The lokum here are delicious, not sickly-sweet like the ones made by so many others producers. Buy some for yourself and several packets for friends. They’ll be very grateful.

Mis Mis
It’s a little nuts (no pun intended) trying to decide which of the dozens of spice, nuts and food traders in the Egyptian Market (also known as the Spice Market) to patronize. Harder still to decide which of these you can trust. Fortunately, a good buddy of mine–a food writer from London–sent me to Mis Mis (shop number 20) and asked me to look for Tahir. Mis Mis stocks some excellent quality nuts, dried fruits, lokum, and other products, including Iranian and Russian caviar. And, when we mentioned our buddy’s name, we got a rather fair price too.
Misir Carsisi, No 20, Eminonu
T: 0212 522 81 87

Other Shopping

Istanbul’s design wunderkinds Seyhan Ozdemir and Sefer Caglar have designed some of the city’s most exciting F&B spaces. They also design and retail–both through their own offices and also through British furniture company De La Espada–some stunning modern home interior products. Their Pebble dining table is a future classic; their Pumpkin sidetable/stool manages to be both cute and elegant at the same time; and their Double Octopus is really sexy. These two are definitely a design team to watch.
Mesrutiyet Cad. No 64/A 34430, Tunel
T 0212 252 67 97

Gunes and her amazing carpets

Gunes Oztarakci
Gunes is one of the most celebrated and respected authorities on Turkish carpets and kilims in Istanbul. She is also reportedly the only female carpet dealer in the city. And she is famous for refusing to work with guides, i.e. you won’t have to put up with pesky tour groups and greedy guides crowding her store. Gunes is also fantastically intuitive, able to “read” her customers pretty accurately. After just a few words, she was able to determine exactly the kind of carpet S was searching for. Many of her wares are exquisite traditionally made reproductions as opposed to the “antiques” others will try to sell you.
Mim Kemal Oke Caddesi No 5, Nisantasi
T 0212 225 1954

Faruk Malhan founded Koleksiyon some three decades ago. Today, his huge showroom/gallery displays not just his own designs but also those of other talented Turkish designers and well-known international brands. Among the many cool products available here, the ones that S and I liked most are Malhan’s own new line of re-interpreted Turkish glasses, simply named the Istanbul collection. The tea cups are very pretty, made from crystalin and paired with a bright red ceramic saucer.
Haci Osman Bayiri No 35, Tarabya
T 0212 223 13 20

Deniz Tunc Design
This little store in Nisantasi is a treasure trove of Neo-Ottoman lamps and furniture. The lights especially are stunning, albeit very, very pricey. If you’re in the neighborhood, drop in for a look.
Guzelbahce Sokak 5/1, Nisantasi
T 0212 232 12 16

A La Turca
Cukurcuma, a small neighborhood near Taksim is being billed as the Soho of Istanbul. It is home to over 60 antique stores, plus some other interesting shops. The coolest store in the neighborhood might just be A La Turca. Owner Erkal Aksey has filled his gorgeous 3-story townhouse with beautiful antiques, reproductions, carpets and kilims. The consumate host and raconteur, a visit to this now iconic store is like dropping in on an old friend. You’ll sit down in his living room, have tea and cake, and trade stories for awhile before Erkal will even begin to try and sell you anything.
Faikpasa Yokusu No 4, Cukurcuma
T 0212 245 29 33

Mine Kerse
Across the steet from A La Turca sits the cutest hatmaker’s boutique. The proprietor, a lovely young woman, makes really cute and modern handcut and handwoven hats for women, as well as bags and shoes. Drop in and have her custom-make something for you.
Faikpasa Yokusu No 1, Cukurcuma
T 0212 249 35 61

Koc is where chic Istanbulus shop for well-made leather and fur jackets. Prices are reasonable given the quality of their pieces and the service is good.
Tesvikiye Atiye Sokak 73, Nisantasi
T 0212 258 59 11

Horhor Flea Market
This pretty cool flea market really shouldn’t be called a flea market. In reality, it’s an amazing building that contains 6 floors of antique stores. The neighborhood and the exterior of the building are a tad run-down, but a lot of the stores in Horhor are very up-market. Or at least their prices are. There are a surprising number of truly great stores filled with gorgeous 18th and 19th Century European antiques. S fell in love with a beautiful 18th Century French wood and wicker love seat, which sadly was way too expensive for us. We’ve vowed to return someday in the future, when we’ve made enough to really go mad here.
Kirik Tulumba Sokak 13/22, Aksaray

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his three kids!